Aaron Nola was one of the first MLB free agency dominos to fall when he agreed to re-sign with the Philadelphia Phillies for seven years and $172 million.
Despite coming off a below-average 2023 season by his own standards, the 30-year-old righthander was predicted to be one of the big prizes of this free agency class.
In the regular season, Nola posted a 12-9 record in 32 starts, pitching 193.2 innings with 1.151 walks and hits per inning pitched, 202 strikeouts, 45 walks, 178 hits allowed, and 32 home runs allowed. He had a 4.46 ERA, the third-worst for a season in his career.
He was sixth in WAR among Phillies pitchers in 2023, with a rating of 2.1.
Nola reached his best in October. He went 3-1 in four postseason games, the one loss coming in NLCS Game 6 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He allowed more runs in his one 2023 postseason loss - four - than he did in his first three playoff appearances this year combined (two).
As a result of re-signing Nola, the Phillies are +1100 to win the 2024 World Series, the fourth-shortest odds in MLB behind the Atlanta Braves (+650), the Los Angeles Dodgers (+650), and the Houston Astros (+900).
Nola ended the 2023 regular season ranked in the top 10 among pitchers in innings pitched (tied for 10th), home runs allowed (tied for seventh), earned runs allowed (eighth), and walks per nine innings pitched (10th).
Those numbers indicate that Nola is a workhorse, but prone to lapses. Zach Wheeler, who overtook Nola as the Phillies' ace when he joined the club before the 2020 season, ranked in the top 10 leaguewide in strikeouts, walks and hits per inning pitched, win-loss percentage, and strikeouts per walk.
On average, Nola will make more money per year - $24.5 million - than the $23.5 million Wheeler will make in 2024, the final year of his contract.
The Phillies clearly believe in Nola. Phillies fans are happy to retain a player who has spent his entire professional career in Philly. But a few questions remain.
First, can he return to being a number-one starter, especially if Wheeler leaves? Second, will this contract prevent Phillies owner John Middleton from signing another elite pitcher such as 25-year-old Japanese free agent Yoshinobu Yamamoto?
The Phillies pitching staff generally performed well during the regular season, but manager Rob Thomson ran out of pitchers he could trust in the postseason and that needs to be addressed this offseason.
Nola is now the seventh-highest-paid active pitcher in Major League Baseball, although free agent pitchers including Yamamoto, Jordan Montgomery, Sonny Gray, and reigning Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell have yet to sign their deals which could be worth more than Nola's.
Regardless of who signs what, Nola is now making the money that an elite pitcher makes.
The bottom line: He needs to reach that level.